Death’s Door

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Death’s Door (Nintendo Switch) – Review

Earlier this year, the small yet incredibly talented team from Acid Nerve released a wonderfully weird game named Death’s Door. With backing from Devolver Digital as their publisher, it was in very good hands from the beginning, and now Nintendo Switch owners get a chance to play this top-down, action-adventure game that will invoke heavy classical Zelda nostalgia feelings with a modern-day twist.

The running theme of Death’s Door revolves around the very idea of death itself. Shocking, I know. Jokes aside, you will take control of a nameless Reaper for the Reaping Commission Headquarters, a bleak and muted environment that happens to be run by a Murder of Crows. I’m getting galaxy brain meme vibes even thinking about this genius decision. Your job is to descend to the mortal plane to reap the souls of monsters unwilling to come quietly. While on the job you are mortal, but once you return to the RCH your mortal clock is halted, so for a job that doesn’t pay well, at least you can gain an extended life akin to immortality.

To kick things off, your current job goes sideways when an Elder Crow steals the very soul you were tasked with bringing back. This old chap gave me old man vibes from the classic Zelda games. He tasks you with entering three distinct doors, and each leads to a Dungeon that needs to be conquered in order to reap the souls of some rather nasty boss monsters, with promises of using the combined power to open Death’s Door and discover the truth of what is really going on.

The task is simple enough and the game feeds off of its simplicity with gameplay following suit. Normally a crow wouldn’t be known for its advanced combat prowess, but you aren’t a simple crow. Player movement is very grounded, literally, as you will move, roll, and swing your weapons as if you didn’t have a pair of wings. Being an isometric top-down experience, moving around the playing field and dodging become part of the dance, as well as learning enemy patterns and how fast you can swing different types of melee weapons.

You have a handful of ranged weapons as well, but the only way to refill your ammo is to get back into the fight, as each melee hit restores your ammo. The more enemies you dispatch the more souls you will gather, and these can be exchanged for upgrades to your skills.

Don’t worry though, as you are not burdened with a giant skill tree and each upgrade is only small improvements, so you won’t be constantly learning new things to master, rather honing the few skills you already have. Despite borrowing the elements of a Dark Souls game, death won’t cause you to lose your collections of souls, which was a welcome feature.

I mentioned earlier that the game feeds off the simplistic approach and no other component is truer than the art style and sound design. Composer David Fenn has probably produced one of the best soundtracks of any game this year. A nice mix of hopeful and ambient melodies blend effortlessly with combat and explorational puzzle solving. Each different location offers its own vibe with the low poly art style coated in sparing cell-shaded details that could either inspire a sense of wonder in the forest portions or despair within the greyscale Reaper Headquarters.

Monsters scale from small and seemingly insignificant plant creatures to a literal moving castle. Throw in Pothead, a character with a pot of soup for a head, or a “chef,” which is an Octopus puppeteering a corpse, and the player will be left in awe and wonders at the bleak and sometimes silly creatures at hand. All of these art style decisions came in clutch with the port to the Switch as it was able to maintain a small install size without sacrificing the overall feel of the game. If anything, playing in handheld mode almost felt like this was exactly how it was meant to be played and Death’s Door was a struggle to put down.

Mark Foster and David Fenn have hit a home run with the action-adventure in Death’s Door, a game that truly feels unique in a genre that is flooded with games trying to capture the magic of old-school Dungeon crawlers. With a relatively short playtime of 10 hours, optional exploration to extend the run time, and possibly unlock an alternate ending, Death’s Door hit the sweet spot and is my pick for Indie game of the year.

The Good

  • Murder of Crows cast as the Reapers? Genius!
  • Original Soundtrack is hauntingly beautiful
  • Combat is tight and responsive
  • Weird and strange characters compliment the world
  • Simplistic art style shines through

The Bad

  • Death brings longer load times on the Switch compared to other versions of the game
  • I wish there were more Boss set pieces
9
___
10

Written by: Shane Fletcher

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